>From tofu!hotmail.com!ch_aa Sat Mar 21 06:40:22 1998 remote
A dark chapter in Canadian history
CBC Television News: The National, 18 March 1998
Guest: ERIC SORENSEN, CBC Reporter
PETER MANSBRIDGE: Some new light tonight on a dark chapter in Canadian history. It goes back to the 1930s, when native people were recruited to work in a uranium mine. They were never told of the health hazards they faced, even though the government knew. Most of the workers came from the Dene village of Deline, just south of the Arctic Circle on the shores of Great Bear Lake. And that's where the CBCs Eric Sorensen reports from tonight.
ERIC SORENSEN: An abandoned head frame is about all that's visible of the toxic uranium once mined here to produce the world's first atom bombs. Three-hundred kilometres away, Deline -- formerly Fort Franklin -- is where young aboriginal men were recruited to do some of the dirtiest work at the mine. Paul Baton, now 83, used to lift sacks of uranium ore onto boats.
SORENSEN: No protection?
SORENSEN: "We usually dressed like this" he says, "it's like flour. It just starts covering what you're wearing."
(Archival Film Clip): They mine the pitchblende ore that yields both uranium and radium.
SORENSEN: The Eldorado mine was opened and run by Ottawa in the 1930s. It supplied the raw materials used to make the atomic bombs that fell on Japan a decade later. About 20 years after that, says Baton, people began dying prematurely of cancer.
UNIDENTIFIED: They're all gone.
SORENSEN: Gina Bayha's grandfather worked at the mine and died of cancer.
GINA BAYHA / GRANDDAUGHTER OF MINER: They trusted, in good faith, that there's nothing to worry about.
SORENSEN: People here in Deline say what's most frustrating is that after so many years and so much illness, they still don't think they're getting straight answers from the Canadian government about the hazards people faced working in and around the mine. Documents obtained by CBC suggest Ottawa knew as early as 1932 that precautions should be taken in handling radioactive materials. The Department Of Mines Annual Report states: "the ingestion of small amounts of radioactive dust or emanation over a long period...eventually may have serious consequences... (including) lung cancer, bone necrosis and rapid anemia." That vital health information wasn't shared with uranium workers, has shaken members of the Deline Band Council. UNIDENTIFIED DELINE BAND COUNCIL MEMBER: We felt that Canadian government is hiding something from us.
SORENSEN: The federal minister responsible for northern affairs says it's all new information to her.
JANE STEWART / MINISTER OF INDIAN AND NORTHERN AFFAIRS: It would will be appropriate for the federal government to take a look at this information and determine what in fact was available and the approaches that have been taken and need to be taken.
SORENSEN: This historian says at the time, governments had other priorities than the health of a few natives in northern Canada.
ROBERT BOTHWELL / HISTORIAN: I would explain the federal governments failure by their concentration on anti-communism and defence. That's, you know, it's a hazard, but the Russians are a worse hazard.
SORENSEN: The Deline Band Council says the entire community will be consulted on what to do next -- though Paul Baton says it's about time Ottawa did something to address a health problem it knew about such a long time ago. Eric Sorensen, CBC News, Deline, N.W.T.